The heat is on, and on . . .

Borrego Springs locals, visitors find ways to cope

Union-Tribune Staff Writer

2:00 a.m. July 24, 2009

Jumberto Avedano, 60, worked on a repaving project on Yaqui Pass Road in Borrego Springs yesterday. (John R. McCutchen / Union-Tribune) -

Think it's been hot the past couple of weeks where you live? Try a Borrego Springs summer. It reached 114 Wednesday and 108 yesterday.

How do folks there withstand it?

Take Jumberto Avedano, for example, a flagman who has been sitting in the middle of a remote highway for weeks warning people that the road ahead is closed. Or the park ranger rides his bike every day because he's convinced that it accustoms his body to the oppressive heat. Or the waitress at the main bar in town who often sees dehydrated drunks come in and forces them to drink water rather than beer.

July is the hottest month in the Borrego Valley, where highs average 107 degrees. August is right behind at 106. The hottest day ever recorded in Borrego Springs was June 27, 1990, at 120.3 degrees, according to the National Weather Service.

For comparison purposes, the average high in July at San Diego's Lindbergh Field is just under 76, according to the weather service.

Some days in Borrego even have some humidity to go along with the blistering heat. Thunderstorms are forecast for today.

One hot job

About 11 a.m. Wednesday, Avedano, 60, of El Centro, was doing what he's been doing since April — sitting in front of traffic cones on Yaqui Pass Road, working as a flagman. He sat beneath a yellow umbrella on a cooler filled with water. For eight hours a day, as the sun beats down, Avedano makes sure no one drives past because a re-asphalting crew is working a couple of miles south.

“I'm from El Centro (104 yesterday), so I'm used to the heat,” Avedano said. “I drink about 15 bottles of water a day and try not to move much.”

One of his bosses, project manager Mario Escalera of Granite Construction, said safety is No. 1 for all the men who've been resurfacing highways under a county contract in the Borrego Springs area since late April.

“We tell the guys to be hydrated the night before, eat healthy, and we have electrolytes for them in the truck,” Escalera said.

He said workers have suffered heatstroke in the past, “but we really make sure we get them in the truck if they're showing any signs of trouble.”

Borrego Springs, the county's oldest desert community, is an unincorporated area of northeast San Diego County surrounded by the 600,000-acre Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. The first homesteaders began to settle in the valley about 1912.

The population fluctuates greatly depending on the time of year — clearly, summer isn't the peak season. Officially, about 2,600 folks live there.

Taking it slow

Shortly before noon Wednesday, Wayne Ferguson, 58, of El Centro and Mike Tobin, 66, of Boulevard ate lunch at a picnic table beneath a tree in Borrego Springs' Christmas Circle.

The men work for Tom Watson Inc., an electrical contractor, and have been repairing phone lines for AT&T the past few weeks in the Borrego Valley. They usually work in Imperial County.

“I kind of laugh when it gets hot in the city and I hear about them setting up cooling centers,” Ferguson said. “I think, ‘Hey, what about us?’ ”

Both men said they learned long ago to pace themselves and to slow things down the hotter it gets.

“You try to work early and get as much done in the morning as you can,” Ferguson said.

Tobin said that when he was a young man — in 1969, maybe 1970 — he got heatstroke. “Just working too hard and not drinking enough water,” he said. Ever since then, he has been careful.

Waitress to the rescue

At Carlee's Bar & Grill in the heart of town, Kathy Chapman, a waitress for the past 10 years, said she works at the air-conditioned bar to escape the heat.

“Eight months out of the year, it's beautiful here,” said Chapman, 56. “You just have to endure the summer.”

Chapman said she frequently sees people come into the bar who are in trouble and don't even know it.

“They come out here to hike or whatever without any water and have been drinking beer all day,” she said. “They want more beer because they think that alcohol is like any other liquid.”

Chapman said they look haggard and that she can tell from their eyes that they're severely dehydrated. “We pour them water and make them drink and explain to them what's going on.”

Park rangers strongly discourage anyone from hiking — at any time of the day — during the summer months. No one has died so far this year — there have been close calls — and they want to keep it that way.

Wendy and Jim Quinn, five-year residents of Borrego Springs, were sipping cocktails at the bar. They said the key is to do all activities in the early morning.

“I walk my dog around 5:30 or 6 for an hour,” Wendy Quinn said. “By the time I'm done, it's already getting really bad outside.”

Chapman and the Quinns said that when it really gets hot — apparently 114 isn't really  hot — they'll head up to Julian or Palomar Mountain to escape.

Easy rider

Bob Theriault, 59, has been an Anza-Borrego Desert State Park ranger for 25 years.

“I make a point of exercising every day,” he said. “Usually what I do is a bike ride for 45 minutes or an hour. Even if you wait until the sun goes down, it's still really hot. And of course, I'm all tanked up on fluids and drink when I go. But I actually enjoy it.

Theriault said the heat of summer gives him a special appreciation for the plants and animals that have to survive the tremendous temperature variations throughout the year.

“I feel a little kinship to them,” he said.


J. Harry Jones: (760) 737-7579

By the numbers
Average mean maximum temperatures for county hot spots in July:
107: Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
93.5: Campo
92.2: Lake Henshaw
90.4: Wild Animal Park
90.2: Ramona
88.6: Alpine, Escondido
87: El Cajon

Source: National Weather Service

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